August 5, 2009
Universal’s Exhibitor’s Campaign Book for Bride of Frankenstein (1935) suggests a number of “stunts” to pull in the crowds. Here, a giveaway set of teeth, either a rubber novelty item or flavored wax candy, to replace any you’d “swallow in excitement seeing the super-shocker”. Another envelope contained candles to light your way home with, in case the movie made you afraid of the dark.
For the enterprising exhibitor, the gag handouts could be rolled into an elaborate lobby display, the “First Aid Lobby Booth Stunt”, providing “everything necessary for the audience who suffer ‘thrill-shock” when seeing THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN”. The booth should be “painted white, with the cross in red to make it as realistic as possible”. Items, “all easily obtainable”, included hair straightener and hair dye, spirits of ammonia, gum and cigarettes. Universal would recycle this stunt as the “First-Aid For Shock Booth” in the mid-40s for its House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula monster rallies, calling it “a time-honored stunt… should be taken from your files and dusted off.”
The Bride Campaign Book also suggested having a trained nurse in attendance, although I suspect a costumed usherette would do just fine. She should walk up and down the aisle while the movie played, “to enhance the shock-angle”.
Parking an ambulance out front was recommended as a natural “follow through” on the Booth and Nurse gags. “Banner this with catch lines and drive it around town for a ballyhoo. This is the money angle, experience has proven!"
The nurse and ambulance gags were longtime stunt staples for fright and suspense films. An ambulance out front was suggested for Frankenstein in 1931, and the gag was still being used in 1973 when The Exorcist was released.
Classic movie ballyhoo was corny and a lot of fun. It survives today in the form of mass-produced die-cut lobby displays, high-priced Super Bowl ads and corporate tie-in Happy Meals. A lot slicker, much more sophisticated, but not as charming as the Old School stuff.
With thanks to Max of The Drunken Severed Head for the images.